By Brooke Baitinger, South Florida Sun Sentinel
January 4, 2017
LGBT youngsters living in Boynton Beach are free to be themselves and love who they want to love without worrying about medical efforts to change them.
The city on Tuesday became the latest municipality in South Florida to outlaw "conversion therapy," a method aimed at converting a person's gender identity or sexual orientation.
The Boynton Beach Commission gave initial approval toan ordinance banning licensed professionals from trying to convert the gender identity or sexual orientation of LGBT youth. Violators can be fined $500 or sued by the city, according to language in the ordinance.
Commissioner Justin Katz voiced his support for the ban Tuesday.
"It's just an absurd idea that in 2016 - going on 2017 now - that people could believe that you could change someone's sexuality through chastising them and berating them and making them hate themselves," he said. "I'm happy that this ordinance has been trickling its way down Palm Beach County, and we're able to solidify that we are protecting children regardless of their sexual orientation."
The ban will apply only to state-licensed therapists. To ensure its constitutionality, the law still allows unlicensed professionals, such as religious leaders, to engage in conversion therapy, the city said.
The proposal was drafted by the Palm Beach County Human Rights Coalition, according to president and founder Rand Hoch.
Hoch began pushing legislation banning conversion therapy when he received phone calls from kids who said their parents were forcing them into therapy that was making them feel worthless, he said.
"At age 12 or 13, they had trained professionals who were telling them they would never fall in love, have a family, that they were basically worthless human beings," he said.
Last month, the Lake Worth City Commission voted unanimously to ban the practice. Other cities that enacted bans include Miami, Miami Beach, Bay Harbor Islands and Wilton Manors. The Key West City Commission were scheduled to vote on it Wednesday evening.
At Tuesday's Boynton commission meeting, several residents urged commissioners to enact the ban. Arlene Torgan, 84, told the story of her son.
"We didn't know he was gay at the time, because like every child that age, he was afraid to tell mommy and daddy because he thought there was something wrong with him," she said. "We found out when he was 34, when he met his partner who is now his husband."
Torgan said she has encountered numerous people, many of them in their 60s, who had never told their parents they were gay because they were afraid.
The Palm Beach County Human Rights Coalition hopes county government will adopt the ordinance, too, making it effective countywide. Hoch said he was encouraged to hear Boynton residents' support for the measure Tuesday.
"To hear people react that way is very encouraging and moving, and it means people get it," he said. "It's about protecting children."
The Boynton Commission will vote on the ordinance a second and final time at the Jan. 17 meeting.